Bowden left his footprint at FSU - and LSU

Bobby Bowden

Big surprise. Who could have argued against the entry of Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno into the College Football Hall of Fame. Right, they are both still active, directing the football empires at Florida State and Penn State, and that will a first when they are inducted in December.

After decades of mostly sterling coaching (Bowden's career record is 359-117-9, Paterno's 354-117-3, the best two won-loss columns in history), is that really a valid disqualification?

 

Ask LSU. Talk about contributing to the legends. The Tigers are a combined 1-8-0 against the coaching giants, 0-1 against Paterno, and a nettlesome 1-7 against Bowden – who came within a touchdown of bringing his magic to Baton Rouge instead of rubbing the Tigers' noses in the dirt of Tiger Stadium. Six of his victories against LSU came in "Death Valley,'' a place that seemed to kill the spirit of the home team at the very sight of Bowden's visiting Seminoles.

 

How much of that, any LSU fan would have to wonder, would have changed had the Tigers scored one more touchdown in their first game against Bowden, in 1979, or if Jesse Myles hadn't fumbled at midfield just before the half of that game, Charlie McClendon's last as head coach of the Fightin' Tigers.

 

Trailing 13-7 at that juncture, Seminole quarterback Jimmy Jordan took immediate advantage of the sudden gift and hit a streaking receiver for a touchdown to take a one-point lead a minute before intermission – the key sequence in an eventual 24-19 Florida State victory, one that changed the course of LSU history. Indeed, Southern football history.

 

Bowden, the roly-poly football mastermind who transformed Florida State from a rag-tag program into one of the country's strongest, had made up his mind he was going to be the next LSU coach if his best Seminole team to that point, unbeaten in six games, could not beat the 4-2 Bayou Bengals.

 

Then-Tiger athletic director Paul Dietzel had assured the LSU faithful he was going after "the best coach available'' to replace McClendon. The best coach available was Bowden, and Bowden was more than interested. "I always kind of lusted after LSU,'' he said more than a decade later. "That's one of those real good lookin' jobs that catches everybody's eye, and Coach Dietzel kind of let me know it was mine if I wanted it.''

 

He did want it, sort of, and had made up his mind that's where he was going if his Seminoles came up short against LSU. "My thinking was,'' Bowden admitted more than a decade later, "that with the best team Florida State ever had up to that time, if we couldn't beat just a pretty good LSU team, then we never would. I'd have to consider going where I felt I could win consistently.''

 

Myles' fumble paved the way for the FSU victory – considered at the time to be the biggest in school history, and one Bowden said showed him "what we could do at Florida State.''

 

The Monday after the game, Bowden, who felt he had to kill all the speculation that he might leave, signed a new five-year contract with Seminoles. Since then, of course, Florida State won a couple of national championships and has constantly been at or near the top of college football.

 

There were career and program-altering ramifications at LSU, too. Assuming Bowden would have any degree of the success Bowden had at Florida State, Dietzel would have been hailed as an administrative genius and probably would have retired from LSU around 1990 with accolades and warm and sentimental regards. Instead he hired largely unknown Bo Rein from North Carolina State, who was killed in a plane crash 42 days later, setting into motion a whole new series of events, including hiring former Tiger hero Jerry Stovall.

 

Dietzel, vulnerable after not getting his "name'' coach and after a couple of so-so seasons under Stovall, was bushwhacked by a politically-motivated chancellor and board, who replaced Dietzel with Bob Brodhead – ushering in a whole new era of shenanigans at LSU.

 

Bobby Bowden left his footprint, a large one, at Florida State – and at LSU.   

             

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Marty Mule' can be reached at MJM981@Bellsouth.net.

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